Optimal setup for photographing coins

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by Stang1968, Mar 10, 2012.

  1. Stang1968

    Stang1968 Member

    Hey everyone. I'm hoping that some of you can share your secrets to getting a great image of your coins at home. What kinds of cameras do you use? What type of lighting is best? What kind of background?
    I have a few digital cameras and a 35MM SLR, but even with macro and a tripod, I get poor results. I chalk it up to lighting, but I can't seem to figure out placement and type to get a good, natural image.
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  3. ikandiggit

    ikandiggit Currency Error Collector

  4. gbroke

    gbroke Naturally Toned

    I got ya covered stang! Let me ask you first, are you generally shooting coins through slabs, or raw?
  5. ikandiggit

    ikandiggit Currency Error Collector

  6. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    No secret here, we all have interest to share informations, and see nice pictures...


    I use a black background, and in order to have it out of focus put the coins on a little wooden piece. A plastic “cache” maintains the background dark.




    I’ve built an alternative to a tripod on which I just have to put the camera (it’s not the actual camera I use on the pic, of course, as I needed it to take one…)

    The light is either natural light or white (they have to be VERY white) low energy light bulbs. Depending on the natural daylight which is subject to quick variations, I make several attempts an choose the best result. With time I tend to prefer natural daylight especially when there is no sunshine (best is when it snows) as the light will be very smooth and even. In general the light coming at approx. 30° over the coin and in direction of the forehead if on the obverse seems to be the nicest, but colors and taste…

    The settings on the digital camera are as follows:
    - Balance on EAB (in French, I don’t know the name in English, it should be something like “automatic white balance” or similar)
    - Manual settings as I want the light to be optimized on the coin rather than on the background. For that I underexpose a bit

    For the pictures themselves, I use Gimp2 as software, crop and rotate if necessary, put obverse and reverse together on the same image. Adjust contrast and luminosity. I slightly change color, coin in hand to stay the closest as possible to the actual color of the coin in natural light (don’t forget electric light changes colors appearance).

    Well, in theory, it’s very easy. In real life it needs a little practice to put everything in order
    Here is what it should look like at he end :


    Have a nice time
    Sorry if my English sounds a bit “heavy” sometimes, and don’t hesitate to ask for more if needed

  7. kanga

    kanga 65 Year Collector Supporter

    Here's my setup.

  8. Stang1968

    Stang1968 Member

    Raw 99% of the time. I only own a handful of slabbed coins, although I expect to add more this year.
    I read some of the threads here and elsewhere on the net. Looks like I need to change some settings on my camera, and try to use more diffused lighting. I have multiple cameras to play with, but I think I will use my old Canon PowerShot A80 (4.0MP) because it allows for significant manual control over exposure, balance, shutter, etc.

    I was reading about light boxes, but their cost is prohibitively expensive. I'm going to see if I can wrangle something up out of an old LCD backlight.
  9. brg5658

    brg5658 Supporter! Supporter

    Personally, I'd stay away from light boxes, as they usually wash out the luster on coins and make for very "flat" looking images. Lighting is a very key part of good photos, and if you're on a budget and live close to IKEA, I'd suggest picking up 3 Jansjo lamps ($9.99 each). I have been using these lights for about 2 years, and they are perfect for the job.

    I personally shoot with a Canon T2i and a Canon 50D, both with a bellows set-up and enlarger or duplicating lenses. That's probably more complicated then you want to get, but even with a small point and shoot you can take good pictures of coins. The keys are a solid mount (small tripod or copy stand), good lighting (Jansjos are great!), a macro setting on your point and shoot (it's a little tulip symbol), and a timer on your camera (to avoid hand shake and allow very long exposures).

    I'm attaching a couple images that I have taken with the Jansjo lighting.

    1945_Cent_obv.jpg 1945_Cent_rev.jpg
    1970D_MS65Star_Dime_obv.jpg 1970D_MS65Star_Dime_rev.jpg

  10. Stang1968

    Stang1968 Member

    Thanks for the tips. I can check the Ikea out by work for those lamps. I do have a tripod as well, but I need to repair the elevator mechanism and get the parts from the manufacturer.
  11. gbroke

    gbroke Naturally Toned

    Brandon, you nailed it. These are no doubt the most important key points. I completely agree and will say that lighting and positioning is the most important factor for a good image.
    Cheap cameras will do the trick, but higher quality ones are a lot more forgiving on things like color and luster.

    I have upgraded my camera, however, here are two pics I took with a camera that costs $70 brand new.


    I have noticed some people are very hesitant to share their 'secrets', setups, or tricks to photography. I don't know why, unless that is what they do for a living. Bad coin imaging really does an injustice to your coins.
    I am a photo-newbie but will share all of my information with everyone as soon as I am confident it works.

  12. Jon4485

    Jon4485 Junior Member

    hey guys i am also wondering about the lighting .... do use more than one light source and if so where do you place them and at what angle are they usually at... really could use the help thanks
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